SMASH Recap: Callbacks (with Musical Number Videos) - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

SMASH Recap: Callbacks (with Musical Number Videos)

February 14, 2012 by  

NBC exhausted its promotional creativity in order to maximize the reach of last week’s SMASH premiere, and those efforts were rewarded. To build on a debut audience of over 11.4 million viewers, the SMASH pilot was replayed on NBC Universal’s vast cable lineup on Saturday night.  If any converted Gleeks or nostalgic theatre nerds have not sampled this program yet, it is impossible to blame the NBC marketing machine.

Some critics, like Dan Fienberg from Hitfix, noted that the Peacock Network had put similar resources behind THE EVENT, a high concept show that suffered a precipitous ratings plunge following a promising start. Fortunately, SMASH is built to be more accessible to the 18-49 demographic, since it does not rely on cast members from NBC’s 10pm hits of the past (Blair Underwood & Laura Innes are not huge hits on college campuses).

This week’s SMASH reigned in the ambitious storytelling, centering in on the theme of shattered dreams. When our backs are against the wall, and our destiny appears right in front of our noses, how deep will we sink if those dreams vanish in an instant? Can we pick ourselves up and persevere? Is there an expiration date on our ambitions?

Fortunately, the tighter storytelling and consistent tone opened a window into the characters of Karen, Ivy, and Julia. As a result, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, and Debra Messing asserted themselves as the MVPs of an all-star cast.

The battle to become Broadway’s next Marilyn took center stage this week, with Karen and Ivy making their closing arguments to the production team.  In a nice touch of linear storytelling, the cold open once again featured Katharine McPhee’s daydreams being ruined by a reality check.  With her fingernails under 24 hour threat of being bitten, and the opportunity of a lifetime just a phone call away, Karen Cartwright has just one diva-like demand for the producers…”Call Me.”

The Karen vs. Ivy debate, one I anticipated would be a true battle of audience loyalties, has turned out to be a one-sided affair.  Though Megan Hilty possesses amazing stage presence, singing chops, and Playbill-ready charisma, the narcissistic streak written into the character of Ivy renders her efforts almost moot.  SMASH’s creative team is positioning Karen as the overlooked underdog, not quite ready for the big stage.  This could be a genius case of coincidence, because Katharine McPhee still has moments of indecision as an onscreen presence.  As we watch Karen struggle to please her new bosses, her old boyfriend, and her own sense of self, there is a genuine unease that McPhee projects to the camera.  The former Idol and her fictional alter ego are still a breath of fresh air, but the imperfections of her performance will serve her well in developing her point of view as the season unfolds.

The performance of “20th Century Fox Mambo” is the best evidence of McPhee’s limitations.  There are moments where Karen’s beauty and vocal talents are intoxicating, then others where her inexperience as a dancer, no doubt the reason behind her endless rehearsal time in her living room, take over the screen.

As a hybrid of aesthetics, experience, and work ethic, Ivy Lynn is the classic case of a star in waiting.  From Tom’s perspective, Ivy is the future of Broadway.  Some of the “Marilyn: the Musical” team believes that she will hold that title in perpetuity.  The knock on Ivy is all about intangibles.  In an industry full of star makers who believe in big dreams, has Ivy’s moment already passed her by?

Despite the villainous tags to Ivy’s character, whether planting a spy in Karen’s callback auditions or giving in to her lecherous director’s sexual advances, there are moments where Megan Hilty gives Ivy a distinctive jolt of humanity.  As Ivy devours books about Marilyn, question every syllable of dialogue, and demand perfection out of each morsel of her performances, she reminds me of Tracy Flick, the character played by Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s “Election.”  Like her politically ambitious counterpart on the big screen, Ivy Lynn believes in the merits of her work and of her industry.  She has been passed over, but continues to ply her craft, waiting patiently for the next opportunity to move up the ladder.  Far from a social climber, Ivy simply feels that Marilyn is the right part at the right time.  In watching Hilty move, flirt, and ooze across the stage, the decision to award her with the big prize seems fitting.

For those audience members who want to find the good in Ivy’s relationships, her interactions with Tom are those of a father and daughter who trust one another implicitly, bound by the same desire for greatness.  Hilty and Christian Borle are wonderful together, and only Tom was rightly given the privilege of  delivering the news of Ivy’s casting as Marilyn.

Ivy’s celebration, low-key in venue, high-profile in setting, was Hilty’s crowning moment of SMASH’s first two hours.  For a veteran performer, who could have thrown in the towel years earlier, Ivy truly can “Thank God even crazy dreams come true.”

While I am not a huge fan of Julia and Frank’s quest to adopt a baby daughter, particularly the one-note whining of teenage son Leo, played by Emory Cohen, there were winning moments between Debra Messing and Brian d’Arcy James in this episode.  As their adoption agency informed them that the process could take up to two years, Frank’s age began to creep up on him.  Realistically, he wondered aloud whether it made sense to adopt if their daughter would graduate high school near his sixty-fifth birthday.  Frank’s hesitation, and Julia’s kind, loving handling of those doubts, rang very true in a time when people are waiting longer to start families and working harder to support those families.  As a high school teacher with one hundred and eighty-seven students but no children of my own, I understand the validation that comes with inspiring a kid to do better.

Julia’s letter to their adoptive daughter’s birth mother, destined never to be read by its intended recipient, was a testimony to the strength of her marriage and her family.  It also spoke to the protective cocoon that Julia and Tom place around the young people who perform in their productions.  No matter how the adoption storyline unfolds, Messing and d’Arcy James evened out the emotional histrionics of the callback process, providing an emotional balance to a lovely hour of television.

“Callbacks” was a nice companion piece to a premiere episode that tried to turn itself inside out with glitz and glamour.  It included poignant performances, gut-wrenching deliberations, and clear points of delineation between Karen and Ivy’s methods for “getting into character.”  This hour served its characters, as well as SMASH’s audience, with respect.

Now if we could just get the audience for THE VOICE to all tune in for this show at 10:00pm 🙂

Were you surprised that Ivy was given the part in Episode 2? How do you think Karen’s character will be treated in the weeks to come? Was Derek’s tryst with Ivy an unavoidable story to tell, or something of a show business cliche? Did Ivy’s scenes with Tom change your view of her character? Which of the cast members are you most excited to watch each week? The curtain is going up for your comments, and there is no intermission. Enjoy the show!

Here’s a sneak peek at next week’s episode, “Enter Mr. DiMaggio”


SMASH Creator Theresa Rebeck Talks About Her New Show
SMASH: Rewatch ‘Let Me Be Your Star,’ ‘National Pastime’ and More Musical Numbers
SMASH Recap: Season Premiere

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One Response to “SMASH Recap: Callbacks (with Musical Number Videos)”

  1. Rory on February 15th, 2012 2:32 am

    Lovely recap.

    I actually don’t think that Ivy planted her friend in Karen’s rehearsals. He seemed to have told Ivy after he was in them.

    What’s interesting is that these callbacks seems to be the final say on who plays Marilyn when in fact they’re really for the workshop of the musical. It’s not a guarantee that the person in the workshop gets to play that character once it hits Broadway. Example: Gavin Creel and Benjamin Walker were Melchior in “Spring Awakening” workshops before Jonathan Groff ended up with the part for off-Broadway and Broadway. There are many game changers afoot. 🙂

    Looking forward to Brian singing… he made me cry so much in “Next to Normal.” LOL.